Cerebral superoxide anion generation during reperfusion after total cerebral ischemia was measured in newborn pigs. Superoxide dismutase (SOD)-inhibitable nitroblue tetrazolium (NBT) reduction was determined using two closed cranial windows inserted over the parietal cortices. Twenty minutes of total cerebral ischemia was produced by increasing intracranial pressure, and SOD-inhibitable NBT reduction was determined during 20 min of reperfusion. SOD-inhibitable NBT reduction (8.7 +/- 1.5 pmol.mm-2.20 min-1) was greater in piglets subjected to cerebral ischemia followed by reperfusion than in control piglets not exposed to ischemia (1.6 +/- 1.3 pmol.mm-2.20 min-1). Pretreatment with indomethacin (5 mg/kg iv) markedly reduced postischemia SOD-inhibitable NBT reduction (2.8 +/- 1.1 pmol.mm-2.20 min-1). We conclude that superoxide anion radical is produced by newborn pig brain during postischemic reperfusion. Furthermore, cyclooxygenase metabolism of arachidonic acid appears to be a major source of this activated oxygen during reperfusion of ischemic piglet brain.